From Prague (which was an amazing, wonderful show) up through Poland we have wandered, and now I write from Copenhagen Airport, en route to Aarhus, Denmark. I had a day off yesterday, and spent it, with some friends, visiting the camp museum at Auschwitz Birkenau.
I’ve long nerded out about the history of Central and Eastern Europe; I read Hilberg and Gilbert when I was younger, and I have recently been devastated by Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands”. Even so, I’d never visited one of the camps before, and so when the opportunity to got o Auschwitz came up, I thought it was important for me to go, to be humble, to learn.
I don’t want to write a long post about the place; others have written much more eloquently than I ever will about the experience. I had one thought that I wanted to share. At one point I was in the area where they unloaded the cattle trucks and made the selections, a long dusty railway siding. There’s a solitary train car there now (not an original, as it goes; it was paid for by an Australian Holocaust survivor to commemorate his parents). As we were there, a group of Israeli school kids were hanging around, playing pranks, chatting, on their phones, generally being irreverent and not paying much attention to their impatient teacher. My initial reaction was mild horror at their open lack of respect for the place we were in. But then it occurred to me that a class of free, happy, vivacious young Jews enjoying themselves was the most wonderful sight to see in that godforsaken place.
It felt like a victory of sorts. I left there feeling weirdly optimistic. If you get a chance, you should go.